Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pilot Review: Ironside

Ironside (Wednesdays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres October 2)

When NBC's schedule was announced back in May, many (including myself) scratched their heads at the inclusion of Ironside, a low-key remake of the successful 1960s/1970s cop show starring America's favorite investigator, Raymond Burr. Burr had already established himself as a huge television draw in Perry Mason, and Ironside proved his lasting popularity. NBC's remake, the newest in a long string of questionable television updates (see: CW's Melrose Place; ABC's L.A. Dragnet, Night Stalker and Charlie's Angels; and NBC's own Bionic Woman and Knight Rider), does not have the same pedigree in its leading man, Blair Underwood, nor does it have much appeal to a young audience. After viewing the pilot, considering all these factors, I'm even more confused by what Ironside is doing on the fall schedule. To overcome such obstacles as a passe concept and a leading man who has never successfully carried his own show, I would have thought something in Ironside was great. I'm still left looking for that greatness.

Underwood (The Event, Dirty Sexy Money) is Robert Ironside, a paraplegic detective in New York who doesn't give a shit about rules, the law, or people's feelings. Paralyzed in a shooting after a bust went wrong, Ironside became bitter but never lost his abilities as one of the city's top cops. He is aided in his investigations by a completely by-the-numbers team: no-nonsense Virgil (the criminally underused Pablo Schreiber, most recently known as "Pornstache" on Orange is the New Black); token female Holly (Spencer Grammer, daughter of Kelsey); and former rich boy Teddy (Neal Bledsoe). They like... solve crimes and stuff. And Ironside has lots of broody thoughts, translated for the screen as flashbacks mostly starring ex-partner Gary (The Killing's Brent Sexton).

Everything about Ironside is completely and totally standard. The murder (suicide?) the team solves in the pilot could be lifted from any police procedural to ever be on television; the victim was stressed out from her job, so she could have committed suicide... or did her shady boss murder her in connection with the Ukrainian sex slavery ring she was a part of? Seeing it written out like that makes it seem even more ridiculous than I remember it being, but suffice to say, writing a subtle case wasn't on Michael Caleo's (Emmy nominee for a fifth season episode of The Sopranos) list of "things to do." Other things not on this list: make the audience care, set the show apart from every other procedural on the air, and prove that this remake was necessary.

The show is somewhat saved by a charismatic performance from Underwood, who isn't nearly as bad as his list of failed television credits would suggest. He's dark but somehow charming at the same time, though even he can't save Ironiside from over-the-top melodrama (without a hint of camp, unfortunately) in the opening scene where he beats a confession out of a perp in the back of a car, or in a later scene where Ironside wheels around his apartment lifting weights and (literally) cursing the day he was put in his chair. Underwood does his best to make such scenes not translate as laughable, but the material is just too bad for even the most talented of actors to elevate. Ironside's team gets hardly anything to do, and they barely even have personalities by the end of the pilot because so much time is spent on trying to unnecessarily complicate the central murder investigation (Did we really need the sex ring?) and establish Ironside's past, pre-chair. This is only forgivable because it introduces Sexton's character. He gives the most believable and nuanced performance, even in just a few scenes, in the entire episode. His final scene left me wondering how much different, how much better, Ironside might have been had Sexton been the titular detective.

Which then brings us back around to the original question: what is the point of this show? It's not like Underwood is one of those actors that people were clamoring to see in a role like this; Ironside could have been played by anyone, possibly better than Underwood is playing him. Television remakes aren't exactly shattering ratings records, so it's not like NBC is following a successful trend. And this version of the Ironside story shares so little in common with the original that the link is almost arbitrary: policeman in a wheelchair is about all the two have in common (NBC could have at least kept the iconic opening credits sequence). So why? Why have you inflicted this totally mediocre, passably competent, unnecessary and unasked for, middling little nearly-nothing of a show on us? What did we ever do to you?

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